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What is the new Enhanced Safe Browsing for Gmail (and should you enable it)?

Google now offers additional protection for its Gmail service. What is it -- and is it worth enabling for your account?
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer

Although Enhanced Safe Browsing should be considered a must-use, it is not going to block all phishing attacks. 

Just_Super/Getty Images

Last week, I received a popup when I opened Gmail. That popup promised an improved experience by way of additional protection against phishing. Naturally, I enabled it. Why? Because I tend to exist within the boundaries of "better safe than sorry" when it comes to technology (and most things, to be honest). 

Before I dive into this feature, let's talk about phishing.

Also: Gmail gets blue verification checks to protect against spoofing and phishing

Don't get out your rod and reel…it's phishing with a ph, not an f.

What is phishing?

Essentially, phishing is when someone (or a group of people) sends you an email that looks as if it's from a legitimate company. For example, I regularly get hit by phishing attempts that look like emails from the Geek Squad and contain what appear to be invoices for products or services. Now, I know I've not used Geek Squad for over a decade, so it's quite obvious to me that these emails are not really from that company.

There are also other tell-tale signs, such as misspellings, blurry images, and --the most obvious -- links that have nothing to do with Geek Squad).

Also: What is phishing? Everything you need to know to protect yourself from scammers

The hope (on the part of the sender) is that I'll click on that Geek Squad email, which will then (most likely) install malicious software on my computer or get me to reveal sensitive information about myself (such as my address, bank account information, passwords, etc). My rule of thumb is that I don't click on links that weren't sent by someone I actually know. I take that one step further and verify a link is legit before clicking on it.

To sum it up: Phishing is an attempt to get you to click on a malicious link that could have severe ramifications. In other words, don't do it.

But Google knows that phishing attacks continue to get smarter and harder to spot. Because of this, it has added an additional layer of protection to Gmail, in the form of Enhanced Safe Browsing.

What is Enhanced Safe Browsing?

Enhanced Safe Browsing was first introduced back in 2019 in the Chrome browser to provide real-time protection against phishing. Here's how it worked: It would compare URLs of sites you visit against a stored list that is downloaded every 30 minutes. This feature was eventually extended to include warnings against malicious Chrome extensions. It also incorporated machine learning models to improve its defense against phishing attacks.

Also: Best secure browsers to protect your privacy online

The official description of Enhanced Safe Browsing is:

"To help protect your account and data, Enhanced Safe Browsing for your account checks for risks: URLs, downloads, browser extensions, system information, and small sample of pages."

One thing to keep in mind is that, although Enhanced Safe Browsing should be considered a must-use, it is not going to block all phishing attacks. That means you'll still have to be vigilant about not clicking suspicious links. A good rule of thumb is that if a link looks even remotely suspect (or was sent by someone you don't know), do not click it.

Also: Phishing attacks are easy for criminals. This is how expensive they could be for you

Here's an easy trick for you. If you hover your cursor over a link in Gmail, you should see a small popup near the bottom left corner of the browser window. If the link in the popup matches the displayed link in the email, then you know it is what it purports to be. If the popup link doesn't match the link in the email, it's most likely a phishing attempt.

A URL embedded in an email.

As you can see, the bottom left popup matches the URL in the email.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

How to enable Enhanced Safe Browsing

At some point, when you log into Gmail, you'll be presented with a popup window that contains a brief explanation and an On/Off slider. Click the On/Off slider until it's in the On position and Enhanced Safe Browsing is enabled.

If you don't see the popup, you can go to this page to enable it. Once enabled, the enhanced phishing protection in Gmail will be in effect.

Also: What are the best email hosting services and do they protect data?

And that's all there is to Google's Enhanced Safe Browsing. I highly recommend you enable this feature to gain added protection against phishing.

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